Thursday, February 6, 2014

Nutrition for Runners - Approach to Training (and getting more veg!)

I read Matt Fitzgerald’s new book on nutrition for runners. It’s called The New Rules of Marathon and Half-Marathon Nutrition: A Cutting-Edge Plan to Fuel Your Body Beyond “the Wall.” Catchy!

The book summarizes recent literature on how to best eat during your taper and for race day. This is all good stuff – and I've read variations on it before in other books –  but it's mostly irrelevant to me right now because I am only doing half marathons this year. And for those I don't need to do a fat load/carb load during my taper or any thing extraordinary food-wise for race day.

So the most interesting information to me was on how to best eat during those long months of training.You know it’s really important to eat right and to get enough calories during your training cycle. First, it makes those hard workouts easier to complete – and more effective. Ever tried running a long tempo on an empty stomach? It’s enough to make you cry. And if you’re not eating enough, and enough of the right stuff, you are more prone to injury. I've also found that eating lots of good calories during high mileage weeks combats the runner-grumpies that I typically get when running over 50 miles per week.

The book proposes a “Two-Rule Diet” for runners. It's actually pretty good. It's not a gimmick. Do read on...

Rule 1 is getting enough carbs. Your sources of carbs are vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. The more you train, the more carbs your muscles use, and the more carbs you use, the more carbs you need to eat. I’ll let Matt fill you in on why and how much you need. It’s anti-Paleo.

Rule 2 is to maximize the overall quality of your diet in order to get to or maintain your ideal racing weight – let’s just call that your healthy weight. He puts all foods into 10 categories. Basically, the best quality, most nutrient dense foods are the top 6. They also happen to be the least calorically dense foods. The lower quality, less nutritious – but higher calorie – foods are at the bottom of the list, 7-10.

1. Vegetables (including legumes)
2. Fruits
3. Nuts and seeds
4. Fish and lean meats
5. Whole grains
6. Dairy products
7. Refined grains
8. Fatty meats
9. Sweets
10. Fried foods

It’s simple: Eat more 1 than 2, 2 than 3, 3 than 4, 4 than 5, 5 than 6, 6 than 7, 7 than 8, 8 than 9, and 9 than 10. Stick to a week timeframe to measure. It won’t be possible to follow the rule in every meal and snack. Biasing your diet to foods in the top 6 will allow you to attain or maintain your healthy weight. And you should eat as much as your appetite dictates – as long as you are sticking to mostly the top 6.

My takeaways were that I should eat more vegetables, less fruit, and more whole grains. I am a fruit monster and tend to get more 2 than 1. Cutting back on fruit was easy. But upping the vegetables was more of a challenge. (More on whole grains at a later date...still experimenting with them.)

So ideas on how to get more tell!

Soup! Even the stuff in the can counts! I usually take a sandwich to work and eat at my desk. Adding a can of soup was a really simple way to get another vegetable serving.

Bonus if you can find all the soup ingredients in your kitchen.

Cut vegetables. Keep cut up vegetables around. Just cut them up right away when you are unloading them.

Pull them out of the fridge for an afternoon snack or when you get home from work. Eat with hummus,Greek yogurt veggie dip, salsa, or guac. It stops me from mowing down a bunch of chips (category 10) before I start making dinner.

Salads. Keeping lettuce on hand to whip up a quick side salad for dinner –  also using your stock of cut vegetables. I dress most of my salads with just a splash of lemon juice or white wine vinegar and some olive oil. Maybe a turn or two of the pepper mill and some sea salt.

These are pretty obvious ideas...Any good veg snacks in your routine?

two little runners


  1. I read his book "racing weight" which is a similar book - but more emphasis on the weight side than the "wall" side. Since I don't have a scale, let alone a fancy body fat scale, i never applied his racing weight techniques, but a large portion of the book was dietary rules like those above. Kind of common sense, but well-put and clearly written. I know that for me it is a lot easier to eat fruit than veggies - mostly a portability thing. So having cut-up veggies around does help - I usually cut some up on Sundays and Wednesdays to get me through the next few days. I also ALWAYS bring a salad to work. Not for lunch - heck no, I'd starve to death! - but as a snack. Or side dish, if you will. Every day. I prep the base (lettuce and other sturdy vegetables) on Sunday and add toppings in the morning when I pack my lunch. So I get a salad with lunch and dinner, plus whatever cooked veggies are in my meals.

    1. I think the racing weight part of the book is geared towards people who make their living running-elites. For the rest of us-or at least me-I don't really care if I'm at my ideal racing weight, whatever that is. I just want to be healthy. So I didn't focus on that part of the book either. Good idea on side salads at work! So important to cut up those veggies on the regular or they don't get used!